Entry 27: Riloth the 19th the 23rd
My father used to say, “No hypothesis survives contact with reality,” when speaking about researching his ideas on the pre-Flood world. No matter how close he ended up being, his research would inevitably refine the idea until he came out with an accurate assessment of the event in question. Oftentimes, through the course of his research, he’d discover that he was in fact completely wrong, but he didn’t let that stop him from unearthing the truth.
Why do I mention this? Well, my father liked to act like he coined that phrase, but when I discovered the phrase, “No plan survives contact with the enemy” in the Collected Journals of Tallow Brimbottom, a famous halfling tactician that opposed the Midlothian Empire, he denied any knowledge of the quote or his own butchering thereof.
As I sit here cowering in a dirt hole, that quote comes to mind—the real one, not my father’s.
I woke this morning, placed my bet, and withdrew just enough gold to get me through my day. Before leaving the Parlor, I tasked Simon with some errands. I instructed him to gather a cart, my crossbow and bolts, a lunch for the road, four filled waterskins and the book from the front desk I was currently working through, and have them ready outside the Parlor in an hour. When I handed him a purse of my morally dubious acquired gold, he got right to work. He left the counter unattended and I could hear him ordering staff to assist him from down the hall.
Leaving him to his task, I went about my own morning chores. I collected my potions and the strange bee venom kobold kidney earplug combination, minimizing smalltalk with Levar. I enjoyed my interactions with the man, his wealth of knowledge always gave me something new to think on, but repeated interactions were becoming painful. To see the eager excitement in the man’s eyes as he explained something to me for the third time word for word as if following a script struck me with pangs of loneliness. It is easy to forget that these people don’t share the same memories of me that I do of them. While I consider Levar a friend, he hardly knows me at all. It was best if I kept my interactions brief. Focus on the task at hand and ignore people, which should be easy, as it was my typical way of moving through the world—or so I used to think.
Simon stood outside the Parlor steps, where visitors could leave their mounts and carriages for the hotel’s staff to stable, holding the reins of a horse. He had visibly strained to complete the task in time. His clothes looked disheveled, and he bore signs of recent perspiration.
I guess he can work hard when he wants to. But why did he want to today?
The horse stood harnessed to a simple flatbed cart with a riding bench. It looked much younger and healthier than Ian—the horse, not the cart. That is about as far as my abilities in horse assement got me. It looked like a regular horse you would ride, and not a plough horse like Ian. He must have been from the Parlor’s stables, for we hadn’t seen him for sale anywhere in town in our search for mounts on the first 19th.
Shortly after I arrived, one of the cook boys ran out of the Parlor with a satchel of food slung over his shoulder.
Breathing heavily, Simon said, "Mage Theral, I trust you will find that everything is in order."
"Thank you," I said.
He moved to hand me back my lightened coin purse, but I waved him off.
"Keep it, I won't need it where I'm going," I told him.
Maybe that was a bit dramatic. I need to stop reading those trashy novels.
Simon stood at attention and—taking cue from my melodrama—said, "It was a pleasure to serve."
I mounted the cart and drove it through town and out onto the south road.
The horse who was not Ian—and who I dubbed Knotien—walked at a pace similar to Ian. Knot, as I eventually began to call him, was younger and faster than Ian, but burdened with the cart. All together we made the journey slightly faster and I made it to the camp around the same time as before.
At the camp I stopped to eat the lunch Simon had prepared. It was the same meat sandwich as the standard lunch, save for the fact that the juicy beef patty was replaced with a cured piece of ham—which was not an improvement. On top of that, he provided an apple and a wedge of cheese. I ate the cheese and some of the sandwich.
I am going to need to do something about this tomorrow.
After eating, I swallowed the kobold beans whole and laid back to read, waiting for it to take effect. I’d been reading Forsaken Love, the tale of a misunderstood dark elf who fled his people to experience the surface. The lead ends up courting the daughter of the merchant guild leader who he met when he saved her from a gang of crazed sorcerers who had hunted her through the forest outside of town.
After an hour I applied the bee venom to my ears using my pinky—vowing to take the kidneys during the ride down if I had to do this again. Almost immediately, my ears began to swell up and the world around me grew quiet. My pinky also began to swell painfully.
More things to do better next time—assuming I fail.
I began to worry over other possible side effects. Initially I had just been relieved that Levar hadn’t given me another crazy concoction, but maybe I should have been a bit more critical. A bee stung a boy I knew when I was young and he stopped breathing. He was only saved by chance, since there’d been a Blessed in town for the day who was able to heal him.
When all I could hear was the pounding of my heart in my ears, I set off through the woods, crossbow tied to my back. It felt as if my heart was located in each ear, and each beat of it sent throbs of pain through my swollen head. As I walked through the woods I could feel a rash spreading from my ears and the tip of my finger. On top of that, the crossbow, quiver, and water skins added more annoyance. The journey to the camp had been miserable enough with seemingly every branch grabbing hold of my weapon despite my attempts to cut a path and the skins slapping along my legs, getting caught themselves on lower branches.
After what felt like hours, but I see now it had been less than one, I reached the clearing. Despite my delays, the Harpy was still perched on her tower, occasionally visible through the parapets. I took the opportunity at the forest edge to prepare. I finished off one of my two remaining water skins, and left both behind.
I guess I only need three if I come back.
I loaded the crossbow with a bolt, and then sat, watching the tower. After a few minutes without seeing her, I chose to risk it and ran across the clearing to the destroyed gate. The pounding of my pulse in my deafened ears made me acutely aware of my heart rate as it sped up. The brief run, which would not have winded me normally, had sent my pulse racing. When I reached the wall, I frantically searched the skies, expecting the Harpy to be upon me. To my relief, the skies were clear.
I scurried over to a large rock that would block me from the tower’s view, and took a few minutes to calm down. I didn’t need a heaving body to ruin my shot when my shaky nerves were sufficient for the task. Once settled, I crawled up the rubble until I’d crested it. The two ogres, Gerald, and knight—I should figure out his name—stood dumbfounded in the center.
Either by some instinctual awareness or a whim, I closed my eyes and willed the colors to return to my vision. When I opened them the world took on a light haze. Looking up, the blue of the sky was lost to the gray, but I could see across the length of the fort, and back to the treeline of the clearing with only a slight gray cast to the air.
The stooges in the center shone brightly with their own auras contrasting their dull surroundings. Gerald’s aura was somehow a bright brown—I don’t need a spellbook to question how a brown can be bright, it just is, this is as weird to me as it is to you. The knight’s aura shone yellow, bordering on gold. The auras of the ogres looked wrong. Swirls of pink writhed like the severed tentacles of an octopus in a field of dark orange. The pink tendrils made up most of the color of their auras, and I got the sense that the orange was being consumed by the pink. As if seeing this alerted my senses, I noticed something in the air. Pink ripples propagated through the sky, which I’d first thought to be a featureless gray haze. The subtle ripples could be seen in the featureless expanse of the sky with little effort, and when I traced them to their source, I saw that they originated from the tower’s top.
Am I seeing the harpy’s song?
As if an answer to my question, I caught a glimpse of the harpy’s head, a vibrant pink that matched that of the ripples. At the origin, I could see the ripples in the air everywhere, not just silhouetted by the sky. I looked back at the group of men and could see that Gerald’s aura too was laced with pink, though it was more formless—less tentacley—than the ogres’. The knight’s aura did not have any pink that I could see.
I hope that means Gerald and the knight can be saved.
I held my own hand up and examined it. The shades of blue present in my own aura did not interact like those of the ogres or Gerald. Where the pink seemed to war with the auras of the victims, the blues in my aura seemed to dance and mix together at times before separating once more. Like when mixing dye into a paint, the colors briefly coexist before blending into a new hue.
As fascinating as this was, it didn’t seem immediately helpful, and I dismissed the colors and with them the building headache.
I sighted down the bolt at the back of the closest ogre. Taking a deep breath, I steadied my shot and pulled the trigger, aiming for the center of its back at heart level. I didn’t hear the bolt fire through my swollen ears, but I felt the weapon jerk. The bolt covered the distance in the blink of an eye, and struck true, burying itself deep into the massive body. The ogre collapsed, and the others looked around in alarm.
I dropped the crossbow and ran, not wanting to wait for them to find me. Scrambling over the rubble and towards the woods, I watched the sky searching for the Harpy. She had already taken flight, and was heading towards me in a claw first dive.
When she got in range, I cast Lightning Bolt at her as I ran. The blue-white arc struck her in the wing, and it began to spasm, turning the attack into an uncontrolled spiral. It went wide, and she landed in the grass between myself and her advancing thralls.
Quickly I weighed the odds of killing her with my sword before her allies arrived. From the tendrils, I did not think slaying her would make the remaining ogre any more willing to let me live, and I chose instead to attempt to take her out with a Firebolt.
I summoned a larger than usual Firebolt in my hand and threw it at the recovering creature as she began to gain her feet. She seemed unharmed by the fall, but my melon sized ball of Fire struck her in the wing. The bolt exploded on impact, and the harpy let out a silent scream. The feathers of her wing continued to burn after the explosion faded. By then, Gerald had reached her, and he brought her to the ground and began to smother the fire with his own tattered cloak.
The ogre and knight only spared their mistress a worried glance before charging after me. I began to cast a Gale anchored to the ogre, but as I focused on it as the target, my sorcerer’s awareness of the Font noticed another control point on the spell. When casting sorcerous spells, the forms I cut into the Font are a gestalt entity, with small levers of control on the otherwise unfathomable shape which I intuitively know to use. The targeting component is the best example, whatever I focus on while casting Gale becomes the anchor of the spell's effect. Now I was aware of a second. Grasping desperately at anything that would help, I tweaked the metaphysical leveler as I cast the spell, and brought the Gale into being on the ogre.
As soon as the spell was off, I resumed my flight, the deliberation over its casting taking less than a moment. I felt the light breeze of the coalescing air around me as it gathered to blow at my enemy. I risked a glance over my shoulder, and saw my mistake. The wind, which normally blew away from me, was blowing at the ogre from the side, pushing him perpendicular to the path between us.
I chastised myself for my foolishness. My mother had always warned me to not experiment with spells, and I’d picked the worst time to disobey that advice. Fear drove my feet forward, and I prepared the construct for Lightning Bolt, holding it in my mind as I ran while trying to ignore how close my enemies must be. It took all my focus to hold the spell in my mind and keep Gale active, the shock of seeing my pursuers would surely break my concentration.
Despite my efforts, the spells began to slip, and if I lost one I’d lose both. I spun myself around and unleashed Lightning Bolt upon the knight, who’d gained on me. I felt the thread of concentration maintaining Gale end as the power of the Font of Lightning surged through me. The blue-white bolt of energy covered the distance between us in a flash, and the knight once more collapsed in an arcing twitching heap.
The ogre caught up, now free of the Gale, and trampled over the knight in his mad dash to avenge his mistress. There are few things I have experienced more terrifying than an ogre bearing down on you. I don't know if it was intentional or instinctual—even now with your recollection—but when the ogre was two paces behind me, I Blinked the remaining distance to the treeline. I traveled nearly a hundred feet and exhausted my remaining will.
My heart was pounding from the mix of fear, panic, and exhaustion combat brings. As I labored to breathe, each beat of my heart throbbed in my ears, feeling as if they were about to explode. Through my gasps for air I managed to drink another clarity potion—this time hardly noticing the rancid taste.
The ogre took a moment to locate me in the trees but once he did, he set off after me with renewed vigor and rage clear on his face.
I ran carefully through the trees, but I could only avoid so many branches while fleeing for my life. After taking one to the face that drew blood, I activated Mage Armor and sprinted headlong through the woods. I'd never used the spell in this manner before, but the branches and leaves of the forest parted before me, each sapping me of only a sliver of Will.
This is almost as good as having Roland around.
With my smaller size and Mage Armor, I easily outpaced the ogre’s larger strides in the forest. After running for what felt like days but was only five minutes, I found a place to hide and regain my breath. The pounding in my ears was unbearable, but there was little I could do but rest. Hiding in a standing dead tree that had become hollow with rot, I waited and hoped for safety.
When I'd regained control of my breathing, I poked my head out from my hiding spot. I couldn’t see any signs of the ogre, but through the branches I caught glimpses of the harpy flying in wide unsteady circles above.
She's a determined bird to fly with the burns I inflicted.
I willed the color into view briefly, and saw her song permeated the area. The sight of her magic made the pain in my ears feel less of a burden.
I had resigned myself to hiding in the tree until the reset when I felt a significant drain on my Will. Looking around in confusion, I saw an arrow sticking out of the trunk, inches from my head.
Leaving Mage Armor active, I ran around the tree and fled, hoping to lose Gerald in the woods. My only chance of evading him was the possibility that the spell controlling him reduced his ability to track. I contemplated attacking him, but felt that would be wrong. I'd struck him once by accident, but I couldn't bring myself to repeat that intentionally. He was not hunting me of his own will. A last resort if it came to it. I knew he would be here after the reset, but I didn’t know what would happen to me if I were to die. I'm curious by nature, but that is one thing I'm not interested in researching.
Running blindly into the forest, I felt the occasional drain on my Will when I ran too close to a branch, and the more significant drains that meant that not only was Gerald still able to track me, but was able to shoot me while doing so. After two more deflected shots from Gerald’s bow left my Will dangerously low, I searched through my bag for another clarity potion. Finding one, I uncorked it and put it to my lips as I ran. I tried to take sips between my desperate gasps for breath, but an arrow hit, exhausting the last of my Will. The arrow struck my back lightly—most of its momentum absorbed by my magic—but the shock of the hit caused me to fall down, spilling my turd flavored salvation. Luckily, I had spares.
Laying in the dirt, I downed the potion in a single gasping pull, and scrambled to my feet to resume my flight.
Better to soil myself in safety than in death.
I now had thirty minutes to escape before the effects set in.
If Levar was right.
There was no way I could outrun Gerald, that much was clear. My desperate gasps for air made casting Mage Armor a struggle despite the mental focus I had just regained. Before the spell was complete an arrow streaked by me to embed itself in a tree. The shock broke my focus and the spell was lost, but I now could see where Gerald was. He stood atop a fallen tree one hundred paces away, drawing another arrow. I was saved by the distance and his own heavy breathing, which I could see even that far away. At this range he had every advantage with his bow, so I took a page out of Bearskin’s book. I charged straight at him.
He drew another arrow and tracked my path. Right before he released his shot, I Blinked ahead as far as I could manage to appear twenty paces away with a massive oak between us. I stood there trying to stifle my panting, but unable to hear if I succeeded. I waited—possibly silently—until Gerald walked into my view looking around for his prey. Not giving him the chance to see me I cast a Lightning Bolt and struck him square in the chest, dropping him to the ground in a twitching mass.
Sorry! Hopefully my rescue goes better tomorrow and I won't have to hurt you again.
I closed the distance between us as fast as I could, but he was starting to recover before I got there, forcing me to cast another Lightning Bolt. This time he fell long enough for me to reach him and when I did I grabbed his bow and fled further into the woods. With the fear of being shot removed, it was only a slightly less terrifying experience. Every couple of minutes I would stop to watch for any pursuit, but after ten minutes with no signs I started to look for a place to hunker down till night.
Eventually I found a hiding spot in a bend of a dried stream bed. I've been held up here for a few hours now. My hearing has recovered enough to have me worried I might be entranced again, but it's getting dark. I've kept my Will sight active, and haven’t seen any signs of the Harpy's song. If they haven’t given up the search they will soon. I can’t risk a light, but I don’t really have much to add.
I’m exhausted—physically at least Levar's potion won't allow me to sleep—and my legs don’t work, so I can’t move. I tried casting Message to Simon in an effort to check ifI’d suffered Will poisoning from that third potion, but it didn’t work. Unlike the last time I had it, casting didn’t hurt. It was as if I had cast the spell with no target in mind. I tried again with Levar and the spell worked and I sent him “thank you.”
I hope that didn’t confuse him too much
The casting left me with a slight headache, but nothing like before. Thankfully I didn't push myself too hard.
Let's try to do better tomorrow. I can’t sleep, but I don't have it in me to write anymore. I’m going to try to get comfortable and watch the stars.